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Mose T A to Z: The Folk Art of Mose Tolliver

By: Anton Haardt
Reviewed by: Georgine Clarke
Saturno Press, 2007
$46, Hardcover

Mose T was an internationally recognized self-taught or folk artist. At his passing he was the last living artist from the landmark 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980, organized at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The field interested in self-taught artists is consistently asking for scholarly works of definitive analysis, works which extend beyond biography, interesting as it may be. This book is not that endeavor.

It is rather a love letter written by a friend and fellow artist, Anton Haardt. Her artistic eye and sensibility gives an important dimension to the publication. She had known Mose T since 1970, had spent time visiting on his front porch admiring the array of paintings set out there, and had accompanied him to the opening of that pivotal Corcoran exhibition. She knew the themes of his paintings, from self-portrait to Moose Lady. She writes about their friendship in this seventy-three page publication, which was actually being printed in China at the time of his passing in 2006. Several pages were added at that time to complete the story.

In her conversational narrative, Haardt gives solid references to the ways the work of self-taught artists enters the marketplace. Visitors to Mose T’s porch included artists, friends, dealers, collectors, and museum personnel. Haardt’s comments about those interactions quietly address very prevalent issues in the field. Significant in the publication are the foreword by Lee Kogan of the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the introduction by Reginia A. Perry, Professor Emerita of African and African American Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

The publication contains important photographs of the Washington trip and casual pictures of Mose T in Montgomery. The dates of the “A to Z” titled paintings range from circa 1969-1990. They reflect the broad range of his work as selected by someone who followed his daily efforts and purposes. The printing captures rough board surfaces and intimate brush strokes. Text comments briefly on each painting’s theme and is accompanied by a quote from Mose T.

There is one unfortunate note. Both October 30 and October 31, 2006, are given as the day of his passing. October 30 is correct. A small point, but significant in the telling of this important story.

Georgine Clarke is Visual Arts Program Manager for the Alabama State Council on the Arts in Montgomery.

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